By Sarah Chandler
Chewing. Packing lip. Dipping. All words associated with smokeless tobacco. Other terms, such as fatties, bombs and chompers, may not be as prominent in students’ lingo, but the number of high school teens that know about these products is growing.
In recent years, the use of smokeless tobacco, which includes chewing tobacco, dip and snuff, has risen, according to the Center for Disease Control. The largest group of users is now teens.
Dip is ST placed tightly between the lip and the gum. Little pieces of fiber glass in the dip make tiny cuts in the mouth, which allow the nicotine to enter the bloodstream. Snuff, another form of ST, comes in pouches and does not require the user to spit.
According to NJ law, only people age 19 or older can purchase ST products. However, this law does not stop high school students.
The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey reported that 8.9 percent of high school students use ST. One student estimated that this percentage is higher at WHS. "I’d say about seven out of ten dudes [at WHS] pack lip nowadays," said an anonymous senior. "[I] pack fatties fifth period."
According to a study done by the University of Minnesota, 75 percent of users begin trying ST in high school. "I see people dipping all around the school. They are not very good about hiding it," said senior Allie Merkelson.
Some sources reported using tobacco weekly, while others said they use it every day. All interviewed users admitted that they use ST products for the buzz.
"A lot of my friends dip," said one senior. "They should probably find another way to kill time."
Science Teacher Ms. Judith McLoughlin has come across ST products in WHS. "I’ve been on hall duty and found evidence.... I found more in my classroom garbage can."
Said Science Teacher and Head Baseball Coach Mr. Robert Brewster, "Every once in a while I’ll watch kids and I’ll have an idea [that they are using ST products]."
However, using ST comes with a penalty if the student is caught. According to Assistant Principal Ms. Lydia Suarez-McNulty: "State law bans [the use of tobacco] on school property and at school events. Students who violate this policy will be subject to disciplinary action to include suspension. Violators are subject to municipal fines as well."
"It’s not worth the risk," said another anonymous student who chooses not to use smokeless tobacco in school.
Use on Sports Teams
According to an article from reuters.com, one third of MLB players use ST products. Harvard University Professor Gregory Connolly said, "The use of ST by players has a powerful effect on youth particularly among young males."
"Chewing tobacco has been in baseball since the beginning of the sport. I think it’s related to baseball because it’s the only sport where you see the players on TV with dip in their mouth," said an anonymous former WHS athlete.
Brewster speculated that WHS baseball players use ST because MLB players use it.
The use of ST products does not only pertain to baseball players. A winter sports athlete said, "It keeps me calm, especially during [the] season."
Health Teacher Ms. Susan Kolesar said, "I have a strong suspicion that [ST use] is associated with certain sports."
However, the athletics department has a strict policy against ST products. Brewster said: "The policy is the same as it is for smoking or drug use. The first time we catch a kid, they will get a two week suspension. The second time, they will be suspended for 60 calendar days."
He added: "I had a starting catcher in 1995 who I suspended the first two weeks of the season because I caught him [with chewing tobacco]. When he came back, he had to earn his spot back."
According to Kolesar, the teenage use of ST products is rising because students mistakenly see tobacco as a non-threatening drug and a less dangerous alternative to smoking.
"I think that dipping is almost more dangerous than smoking. With dipping, students are free-basing carcinogens directly into their cells," said McLoughlin. "Students have heard the risks involved with smoking, but they are not so aware about the effects ST can have."
When asked why he uses ST products despite the health risks, a different anonymous senior said, "The pros [i.e. the buzz] outweigh the cons."
Kolesar said that there is a long list of health risks involved with ST use. She said: "[ST products] can cause cancer in the mouth and esophagus, gum disease and leukoplakia, which are precancerous white patches. Also, because it contains nicotine, it increases heart rate, which can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure."
The addiction caused by the use of these products is also a problem. According to Kolesar: "Withdrawal can leave users… preoccupied with their next use. That is far from conducive in a school setting where a student should be focusing on content, not counting the minutes until their next fix."
According to the CDC, tobacco use causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.
Kolesar encouraged students who want to quit to seek help: "There are plenty of products out there and behavioral strategies that can be implemented."